If you’ve ever thought that the flanks of North Michigan Avenue couldn’t possibly support yet another skinny skyscraper, never underestimate the power of money and high-end design software.
Symmetry Development, out of New York, wants to build a 60-story mixed use building on the northeast corner of Wabash and Superior. The plot is currently the location of a couple of greystones converted to retail, and a small parking lot and heating plant that served Holy Name Cathedral across the street.
In an email message to his constituents, 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly says the new tower would be 725 feet tall, with 30,000 square feet of retail space, 216 hotel rooms, 120 time shares, 246 condominiums, and a 325-space parking garage.
It’s a project nearly double in size of the last one proposed for this location.
That was back in 2015, when the plan was for a mere 36 stores, with 140 hotel rooms, 154 apartments, and an equal number of parking spaces.
Two years ago we noted that building a skyscraper at this location involves some logistical difficulties.
First, the project depends on the demolition of 42 and 44-46 East Superior Street. These are two Chicago graystones built in 1891 that are “code orange” in Chicago zoning-speak. This means they have historical importance and you can’t go knocking them down without a lot of paperwork and maybe some public input.
Second, it also requires the use of the lot at 40 East Superior and the odd garage-looking building at 739 North Wabash Avenue. Holy Name Cathedral owns both of these. The lot is a parking lot for the people who live at Casa Jesús (750 North Rush Street), which now includes Archbishop Cupich. And the other building is the heating plant for Holy Name Cathedral (735 North State Street), which is a very large space and requires quite a lot of heating.
The Casa Jesús people could just park at the main Holy Name parking lot two blocks away. But moving the heating plant would be a lot trickier. The developers will have to work out something with the church and possibly the Archdiocese of Chicago to make that happen.
Crain’s Chicago Business notes that the developer bought the greystones in question last spring. And it isn’t beyond the realm of possibilities that it’s also got its hands on the Holy Name property next door. These days real estate discussions with Chicago’s Catholic churches seem to go something like this:
Developer: “Would you like to sell…”
Church: “Yes, please!”
Developer: “But you don’t know…”
Church: “Here’s the keys!”
Both Old Saint Patrick’s Church in the West Loop, and Assumption Church in River North are deep into the building phase of their recent real estate partnerships.
But in an area known for shopping, hotels, and office buildings, the NIMBY is strong. In 2014, plans for a hotel sammitch just feet away at 740 North Rush were killed by neighbors who had very strong traffic and parking concerns.
While the developer and its traffic consultant painted pictures of vehicular rainbows and unicorns, residents coughed “bullshit” into their sleeves because their personal experiences didn’t jibe with what was being fed to them.
The developer promised that his two hotels with zero parking would not cause taxis and valets to clog the streets with waiting vehicles. But a block away, the Peninsula Hotel is notorious for causing traffic jams that start on narrow East Superior Street and spread to adjacent blocks. After all, the hotel’s valets and doormen are being paid by the hotel guests, not the neighbors stuck behind a triple-parked cabbie trying to earn a living.
Neighbors not only scoffed, but laughed out loud when the developer and the local head of a major parking garage company told them that there was plenty of parking nearby for everyone. Residents shouted that they often have to go from garage to garage trying to find one that isn’t full. And they even went a step further — accusing the developer and the parking company of deliberately excluding a garage from their new building to further reduce the number of available parking spaces in the area in order to drive up rates.
This new skyscraper proposal should face fewer fireworks when it’s presented to the pubic next Monday (March 13th) at 6:00pm at the Sofitel Chicago. First, it’s got its own parking garage, so no one can claim collusion. Second, it has only a quarter of the hotel rooms as the 740 proposal. And third, it’s a corner lot, so the loading zone can be put what is currently a fairly sleepy block of Wabash.